There was a time when the Beatles inspired young musicians to reach for a Rickenbacker. From September 9, they’ll be snatching up ‘instrument peripherals’ and plugging into The Beatles Rock Band, bringing the legend of the Fab Four into the thumb-tapping age. Once a ground-breaking act, the two surviving Beatles and the estates of George Harrison and John Lennon have been oddly slow on the uptake. Both Aerosmith and Metallica have had success with the rival Guitar Hero series, and plans are afoot for other rockers to follow suit (Van Halen is due in December). Still, kudos to Harmonix and Electronic Arts for reeling in what will undoubtedly prove to be the biggest fish in the pond.
Perhaps understandably, the game was not inspired by the foresight of Sir Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr – both sixty-somethings – but through the more youthful enthusiasm of Dhani Harrison, son of the Beatles’ late guitarist George. ‘Dhani is a huge fan of Harmonix, with its history and reputation for developing music games,’ explains Josh Randall, Creative Director at Harmonix, adding that he was ‘overwhelmed by the access we’ve been given to source material throughout [the game’s] development.’ The young Harrison is a self-confessed gamer and has said that he plans to keep working in the gaming industry, should his career with TheNewNo2, his latest band, allow him time.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the developers came in selecting the right songs from a back catalogue of over 300 classics. ‘We began by brainstorming with Giles Martin [son of, Beatles producer, George Martin] on a list of songs that would be fun to play in our game,’ Randall tells us. ‘We wanted the game to span the entire performing and recording history of The Beatles, so we tried to select songs, outfits, eras, and venues that would represent key milestones in their amazing career.’
Indeed, the attention to detail that the game represents is mind-blowing, from the chord fingerings of the onscreen band, to the fleet footwork that George Harrison once thrilled his fans with. The game can be played in several modes, including a career trajectory that follows the band’s history and allows gamers to experience their story up close, from the early days at Liverpool’s Cavern club, through their historic Shea Stadium appearance, right up to the rooftop gig that came in the last months of their career.
Coupled with the release of the Beatles’ re-masters, the release marks a milestone in the career of a band that split up almost 40 years ago. How the legacy is updated in the future will be interesting to see, though it’s clear now that it’s down to Dhani Harrison, Sean Lennon and James McCartney to keep it all relevant. If history has a say in what comes next, then surely the Rolling Stones will be knocking at the developer’s doors. Randall is keeping his lips sealed. ‘You’ll just have to wait and see,’ he smiles.
While the customised peripheral instruments are unavailable in the UAE, the game will go on sale on September 9, distributed by Electronic Arts. Available for the Xbox 360, PS3 and NintendoWii.
Some of the more obscure music-related video games.
The Shaky Game (1983)
Running the whiny static at the end of Shakin’ Stevens’ album The Bop Won’t Stop into a ZX Spectrum computer loaded a rudimentary video game in which Shaky must flee nefarious bats.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (1990)
Before it all went a bit wrong, Michael Jackson was the subject of this excellent action game for the Sega Megadrive, which included bleepy renditions of his songs and funky digitised dancing.
Brütal Legend (2009)
Out this year, Brütal Legend is a comedic action game about a roadie, Eddie Riggs, trapped in a heavy metal universe. Jack Black stars as Eddie; other voices include Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy from Motörhead.